Team:Hong Kong CityU/Human Practices

Human Practices

Synthetic biology is an expanding and fast-growing field of science. As a part of the iGEM community, the CityU iGEM team has the responsibility to raise the awareness of the general public on the increasing importance and widespread benefits of synthetic biology. With this in mind, our outreach team aims to educate the local community and general public on the recent advances of synthetic biology for energy needs, bioremediation, and pollution control. With respect to our iGEM project this year, in addition to promoting the diverse applications of synthetic biology to the general public, we also aim to highlight the seriousness of the plastic pollution problem at a global scale, the potential in using synthetic biology to tackle the problem and to motivate and inspire the general public to take positive actions to reduce plastic pollution with minor lifestyle changes.

To achieve these goals, we have come up with different approaches through which we can build the bridge between synthetic biology and society.

Human practice - Opinions from Experts

(Dr. M K Tse, structural biologist;

Dr. K C Lau, computational chemist)

Our team has presented our project to two different experts through meetings and interviews to seek their professional advice and opinions to improve on the science of this project. Some recommendations were given on how to improve our project.

Meeting with a structural biologist

The team held two interviews with Dr. Man Kit TSE, the Scientific Officer in the Department of Chemistry at the City University of Hong Kong. As an expert in structural biology, he expressed interest in providing support to the computational modeling aspect of our project. Dr. Tse has given our team a lot of ideas and advice on how to perform molecular docking using different plastic-degrading enzymes with plastic polymer substrates of varying sizes with the help of different computational software. He advised our team to ensure that protein structures of the lowest G energy and accuracy of the structural geometry of the protein are used. Additionally, he suggested a reasonable approach to modify our proposed procedure for molecular docking analyses, which was immensely useful to our team.


Fig. 1: Meeting with Dr. Tse with iGEM members:
(left to right) David, Ming, Ellis, Delta, Dr. Tse

Meeting with computational chemist

Our team also approached Dr. Kai Chung LAU, the Associate Head and Associate Professor of Department of Chemistry at the City university of Hong Kong. Dr. K C Lau is an expert in the field of computational chemistry. Dr. Lau has provided solid comments on the hardware and computational system to our team. His valuable opinions has greatly reduced the time needed for the team to perform molecular docking analysis.


Fig. 2: Meeting with Dr. K C. Lau with iGEM members:
(left to right) Jason, Delta, Dr. K C Lau, and Ming

The team would like to thank Dr. M K Tse and Dr. K C Lau for their precious time and constructive feedback. With their assistance and professional comments, our team has managed to improve the overall design of our project helping it to be based on a more rational approach and design.

Human Practice - Online Survey

We are aware of the seriousness of the current plastic pollution problem. Our iGEM team conducted an online survey to gather opinions from the general public that relate to issues on the consumption of plastic products and the public’s knowledge about the science of synthetic biology.

Our aim was to understand the consumption habits of the general public for plastic products and to promote public awareness about the versatility and potential of synthetic biology in tackling problems related to environmental pollution. The results of the survey would help us devise a comprehensive module for general education on synthetic biology.

From the survey, we found that approximately 32% of respondents consumed more than 15 plastic products per month and 51% of the respondents consumed 6-15 plastic products per month. As expected, none of the respondents claimed that they do not use plastic products. Sadly, less than 50% of respondents would consider practicing plastic recycling as a means to help reduce plastic waste. Plastic usage is, without doubt, an an important part in the daily lives of humans and few consumers would consciously consider adopting a sustainable and environmentally friendly lifestyle to help reduce plastic waste production.


Fig. 3: Shows the consumption habits of plastic products.


Fig. 4: Shows the recycling habits of consumers.

About 94% of respondents indicated a positive outlook and support for our iGEM project to tackle the plastic pollution problem. However, only 50% of respondents indicated a strong preference in using a SynBio approach versus adjustment of plastic consumption habits to reduce plastic pollution. Overall, the survey shows that the knowledge of the general public about the potential of synthetic biology is still quite limited.


Fig. 5: Shows whether the respondents support our project.


Fig. 6: Shows the choice of respondents when tackling plastic pollution.

Human Practice - The vision of NGO

It was our pleasure to have Mr. Gordon So from the “World Wide Fund for Nature” as a guest speaker at a public talk ‘How can we solve plastic pollution: The Conservation and SynBio Approaches’ (held on 18 October 2020) that was organized by our iGEM team. During the talk, Mr. So shared with us his ideas and insights on some potentially effective methods to tackle the plastic pollution problem, in particular, his ideas on a concept called circular economy. He mentioned that the application of our innovation to the traditional 4Rs rule (Reduce, Reuse, Replace and Recycle) is the key component of the development of circular economy. This idea inspired our team to rethink the implementation of our project strategy in relation to the principles of the circular economy. Our team subsequently discovered that our idea of using synthetic biology to develop a more efficient biodegradation system to deal with plastic waste has the potential to develop into a collaboration with the recycling industry.


Fig.7. Screen capture on zoom of Mr. Gordon So
delivering his idea on circular economy

How does our team respond to the community?

Based on the public survey data obtained, our iGEM team learnt of the low-level awareness (and knowledge) about synthetic biology, and the overall environmentally unfriendly shopping habits of the general public. Additionally, we were highly concerned with the seriousness of the global plastic pollution problem described at a public talk by our guest speaker, Mr. Gordon So of “The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF)”. From the feedback received from the general public and WWF, our team has actively embarked on additional activities to further promote synthetic biology and environmental protection.

During the entire period of the iGEM project, our team has held numerous meetings with the HKUST iGEM team to co-organize a number of outreach activities to raise public awareness on the enormity of the plastic pollution problem and the use of synthetic biology as an effective technology to tackle the problem. Both our teams have worked closely together to develop some high quality and easily accessible resources for the general public to learn more about synthetic biology and related technologies to reduce plastic waste to protect our environment. In view of the rising trend of online video platforms, we created a Youtube channel and produced two videos on the applications of synthetic biology in the modern world. Together with HKUST, we also organized an online public talk addressing the significance of synthetic biology in solving the plastic pollution problem. To educate and emphasize the importance of environmental protection to young people, our CityU iGEM team hosted an Instagram account as a platform to promote our project on the use of synthetic biology to develop a plastic biodegradation system to help reduce plastic waste.

Thanks to the warm collaborative spirit from the HKUST iGEM team, we have managed to reach out to the general public through various online platforms and social media with our messages about synthetic biology and the positive actions possible to protect our environment. However, we will not be satisfied at this stage. We intend to release several more videos on our Youtube Channel on different aspects of synthetic biology in the coming weeks. Hopefully, the videos will continue to educate more people and help breed new groups iGEM Passionists working on new and innovative technologies to help protect our environment.

CityU HK IGEM 2020